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UD College of Earth, Ocean and Environment postdoctoral researcher Hongjie Wang (far left) told graduate students from UD how she fell in love with Xiamen University walking on the stadium steps with her future husband.

A global education

PhotoS by Mark Jolly-Van Bodegraven

UD partnership with China's Xiamen University creates opportunities for students

Editor’s note: The University of Delaware’s College of Earth, Ocean and Environment and China’s Xiamen University celebrated a 10-year partnership during a January symposium in Xiamen. A second UDaily story explains more about the partnership and faculty exchanges.

Angela Ditri had never been to China. She had never given a presentation of her research, and certainly not one in a hall that could seat hundreds.


But the master’s student in physical ocean science and engineering got to start 2019 by doing both, adding the prestige of presenting at an international conference to her resume and learning a bit about the coastal city of Xiamen in the southeast of China in the process.


“The fact that I was able to stand up there and get through it in front of all those people — it has always been one of my big fears — I’m really glad that I had this opportunity. I feel accomplished,” Ditri said. “Dr. Yan was really supportive … He is very kind, and he was so excited for me to come here and really pushed me to give this presentation.”

UD students pose in front of the oldest building on Xiamen University’s campus. The combination of Western and Eastern architectural styles was requested by the university’s founder, Tan Kah Kee.

Xiao-Hai Yan has been one of the faculty members in the University of Delaware’s College of Earth, Ocean and Environment (CEOE) with the strongest connection to Xiamen University (XMU), with which CEOE has collaborated since 2008. He directs the joint Center for Remote Sensing, which operates at both universities, and in addition to Ditri has four students in his lab in Newark, all of whom have finished their doctoral studies at Xiamen and are now working on a dual-degree doctorate from UD.

Eleven students have participated in the dual-degree doctoral program, and four have graduated. They have completed the most rigorous level of academic training in oceanography in both the United States and China, and when they have returned to China for faculty positions, they are bringing knowledge gained at UD to enhance the capability of universities in their home country.

One of the most obvious results of UD’s partnership with Xiamen is the exchange of students. In addition to Ditri, two doctoral students from Wei-Jun Cai’s lab and two from Holly Michael’s lab also traveled to the Fourth Xiamen Symposium on Marine Environmental Sciences in January. But the relationship between the institutions and their faculties leads to other benefits to their students as well.

Xinyu Li (left) and Kyra Kim discuss an inscription on Xiamen University’s campus as Julia Guimond listens. All three are doctoral students in CEOE. Li is originally from China, and Kim is working on learning the language in case she finds a postdoctoral position in the country.

Emily Maung-Douglass and Weiwei Zhang both completed their doctorates at UD, then took postdoctoral research positions at Xiamen University. Zhang is waiting to hear whether she will be hired as a faculty member at Xiamen, while Maung-Douglass returned to the United States and now works for Louisiana Sea Grant.

“Working at Xiamen University provided me with many opportunities — both professional and personal,” Maung-Douglass said. “I gained valuable experience in ecotoxicology, which now helps me in my job as an oil spill research extension specialist. Further, I made amazing friendships that made my time at XMU even more memorable.”

Postdoctoral researchers at UD have also come from Xiamen University. Two currently working in the lab of Wei-Jun Cai, Qian Li and Hongjie Wang, graduated from XMU, for their doctoral and master’s degrees, respectively. Li and Wang traveled with the UD delegation to Xiamen and presented at the symposium as well. In addition to her own presentation, Wang also convened a session, adding a new experience to her resume.

Hongjie Wang (far right), a postdoctoral researcher at CEOE who earned her master’s degree at Xiamen University, points and tells UD graduate students about the phoenix trees on campus, which bloom twice a year, once at the start of the fall term and once at graduation.

“At this meeting, they welcome the younger and early-career scientists,” Wang said. “It is a good opportunity.”

Postdoctoral and visiting scholar positions certainly benefit the people holding them, but they also mean more collaborators and mentors for current students. Xinyu Li is a doctoral student in Cai’s lab. She is continuing work begun by Xiamen University faculty member Guizhi Wang during a year she spent as a visiting scholar with Cai.

“Her coming to our lab expanded the possibilities with the disciplines in our lab,” Li said. “She started an estuarine transport model, and I’m continuing to do that work.”

Both Li and a fellow doctoral student in Cai’s lab, Yuanyuan Xu, presented posters on their research at the symposium and said the feedback they received from attendees was valuable, not to mention the opportunity to make connections with established scholars in their fields from around the world.

Those experiences, both formal feedback and informal connections made, are part of why CEOE Dean Estella Atekwana wanted to take students with the UD delegation to Xiamen and why she said international exposure should be a part of any student’s time at UD.

“When we look at student training, it is really important for students to have that opportunity for international experience as part of their education. It allows them to be globally engaged,” Atekwana said. “Many corporations are international with offices across the globe. Students who participate in study abroad or have international research experience as part of their educational portfolio definitely have a competitive advantage.”

Students at Xiamen University cross the street in front of residential housing units on campus.

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